Football Insider: Northern Iowa

A pleasant surprise for CN subscribers: our football insider Ben Bruns has decided to return for another season of exclusive analysis of Iowa State football! His first article of 2003 discusses the keys for a successful ISU season and what to expect Saturday night against Northern Iowa.

Ben Bruns was a standout center at Iowa State and key member of the 2000 senior class that led Iowa State to a 9-3 record and top 25 ranking in both the Coach's and AP polls. Bruns finished 5th in the voting for the Rimington Trophy, awarded annually to the top center in college football, and in high school was named the Class 1-A Player of the Year by the Des Moines Register. The native of Denver, Iowa, now provides analysis for the Cyclone Radio Network and CN during the football season.

CN: Let's begin with the re-dedication Iowa State made towards improving its strength and conditioning since the Humanitarian Bowl and how much it will pay dividends going into this season.

BRUNS: I think it is always an important part of ISU. Coach Getty never wavers in his goal or his resolve for each player to make the best improvement they are capable of. However, what he can do for you only goes as far as what you are willing to do for yourself. I hope there have been a bunch of guys who have heard the message loud and clear from Mac and have realized that they do need to work extremely hard to get and stay ahead of the competition. From the things I've heard young guys like Nick Leaders say, they have taken the grueling nature of the extended schedule to heart. It was tough when you played just 11 games, now it is even more so.

CN: How much more leadership should fans expect on this year's team given the fact there are 29 seniors on the roster compared to just 14 last year?

BRUNS: Hopefully it will make all the difference. Leadership doesn't start when you throw on the shoulder pads, nor is it over when you take them off. My hope is that the leadership of this team will be evident right from the start by seeing what kind of work they've done over the offseason and how they have prepared for this year. There are a lot of good players who have played a lot of winning football in this group so it should be fun to watch.

CN: Obviously you have a unique perspective on the importance of offensive line play from your time spent in the trenches. How much will the loss of Bob Montgomery effect the chemistry that this unit had worked hard to develop going back to the spring?

BRUNS: I think it can do a couple of things. First, obviously it is hard for Bob and the rest of the group because as Ben Beaudet and I were talking about Sunday, Bob has paid his dues in full and is the heart of this group. When you get hurt, you try to stay into everything by going to practice, lifting, and being in meetings. Unfortunately, you can't help the group where it is most vital, in the huddle. Second, at the same time this opens the door for a youngster who is going to be an outstanding football player in his own right to get in there and add a spark of newness to the unit. Everyone has their own way of interacting and it is always interesting to have a new guy in the mix if he is doing his best to help.

CN: Looking at last season's group, how do you evaluate this offensive line with and without Montgomery? Would you consider the group ISU puts on the field against UNI to be better than last year's and how much better will this unit be once Montgomery returns?

BRUNS: I think this group with and without Bob has the opportunity to be a good line. Obviously, Bob will make a big impact when he gets back. But in my experience I think you never really get to be as crisp as you could have been being able to play through a whole year because you aren't playing football when opponents are. At the same time everyone else is beat up at the end of the year and the longer schedule should help Bob get back and peak when it counts the most down the stretch.

As you look across the line, you see a bunch of good athletes. Casey Shelton needs to have a breakout year for us to be successful and I like Cale Stubbe's toughness and attitude at the other tackle spot. Cale came through last year after being thrown in the fire and I think if he continues to improve he can influence the outcome of games substantially.

I also like the center position with the fact that Luke Vander Sanden can have an impact if he stays healthy and gets some real playing time for the first time in his career. Matt Bockes has proved he can play, as have the other guys in the two-deep, so I think we are in good shape there. That brings us to two of the potentially most outstanding linemen ISU has had in a very long time: Aaron Brant and Seth Zehr. Unfortunately, no matter how much potential you have, you are going to make mistakes and struggle at times. Iowa's offensive line last year was a good example. We watched tape of them as freshmen and sophomores against Nebraska during preparation for NU and wondered what they were doing half the time. They ended up becoming one of the top units in the nation as seniors. I know we have that kind of young talent this year, I just hope they catch on quick.

CN: In your opinion, what are some of the positives and negatives of having so many true and redshirt freshmen in the two-deep for the Northern Iowa game?

BRUNS: Just like in the offensive line, we have more young talent than ever before and that is a tribute to our recruiting. At the same time, you just do not know how they will respond until the bullets are flying. In practice, good coaches will test you to your breaking point so that when you get out in a game you're just glad that dirty SOB isn't standing behind you. It helps prepare you for the real deal so I think our guys will be in good shape. The great news is they'll just get better and better.

CN: What is your biggest concern about this team heading into the 2003 season?

BRUNS: Goals. Each year we have a set of goals. I think everyone needs to have top level expectations and not settle for anything less. If you settle with this schedule (easily the hardest in recent history) you will be somewhere cold in December.

CN: What are you most encouraged by going into the opener?

BRUNS: They have the potential to be an OUTSTANDING football team. In my opinion the best in school history. But it rests in the hands of the o-line and the run defense and they need to come up big.

CN: What's the best case scenario debut for new quarterback Austin Flynn in his first career start Saturday night?

BRUNS: Solid decisions and heady plays that you wouldn't expect from a redshirt freshman. If he just plays the game as he's been coached, he'll lead us to a victory.

CN: A lot was made about the changes in McCarney's coaching staff last season, with every offensive coach having a new duty from the one he had in 2001. What positives will come out of the continuity of Mac's staff this fall?

BRUNS: I think it always helps to have guys in a program for a while. The biggest key is chemistry and they need that to make it all work.

CN: Give us your keys to victory against the Panthers.

I think the o-line is the key to the season, and they need to be nasty but under control. That's the thing about playing offense, you can't let emotion control you completely. The OL needs to be mentally crisp and just a little vicious. I haven't talked much about the defense, but I think the defense needs to be quick to the ball and have the primetime players play like they can. It should make for an entertaining Saturday and hopefully an ISU win.

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